Can we temporarily change our parenting plan by verbal agreement until quarantine is over?
I do not practice law in your state. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of your state, but I can provide you with general tips for this sort of issue.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are making adjustments to their everyday lives. Many parents are being forced to work from home, and their children are no longer in school or daycare.
Due to this drastic change, it is likely that parents will have to adjust provisions of their parenting plan. Because each parenting plan is different, parents should thoroughly read their parenting plans before discussing any adjustments to the plan with the other parent.
Fortunately, many parenting plans provide that parents may alter their plan by mutual agreement. When discussing altering the agreements, parents should strive to communicate via text or email, so there is evidence of whether they changed the plan through mutual agreement. When parents only communicate verbally, it can be hard to prove that there actually was an agreement.
Moreover, some plans may require a “written” agreement to adjust provisions. In addition to following the modification requirements of the parenting plan, it is useful to have all communications in writing in case a contempt action arises in the future. That way, you can use texts or emails as evidence in contempt proceedings.
It is important to note that adjusting parenting agreements can create a precedent. If the parenting agreement is changed and you follow the new agreement for an extended period of time, the other parent may later try to get the parenting agreement formally modified through the court.
If the child has been adjusting well to the change and the change offers more benefits in comparison to the previous parenting plan provisions, the parent trying to get the parenting plan modified may have a good argument that it would be in the best interest of the child(ren) to change it.
Therefore, you should not agree to any significant changes, such as decreasing the amount of parenting time you will have each week. At most, you should agree to minor changes, such as the location where you will exchange the children.
However, if a parent is working different hours or more hours (such as a health care worker) due to COVID-19, the other parent should be reasonably accommodating in schedule changes but ensure that they still are getting the same amount of time they would otherwise be entitled to. Again, here, it is important to keep conversations documented via text or email, so you would be able to prove to the court that the change was intended to be temporary.
Overall, parents should be somewhat flexible if the court-ordered schedule is no longer possible or practical. Although parents are expected to follow their parenting plan, courts understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused drastic changes to parents’ schedules and ability to strictly comply with the plan.
If you are acting unreasonable in response to the other parent’s reasonable request to modify the parenting plan, that will not be helpful to your case.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.